The New Age of Stretching: A Look at Dynamic Flex
When we think of “traditional” stretching for athletic purposes, you may envision prolonged poses for areas like your hamstrings, quads, IT band, etc. This is static stretching. There has been a lot of debate in sports medicine as to the effectiveness and appropriateness of this form of stretching. Researchers have evaluated the physical response to this form of stretching and what forms of exercise are most valuable in an effective warm-up. With this knowledge a new age of stretching has emerged. Dynamic Flex is the dominating feature in professional athletes’ new warm-up routines, and should be considered for any serious athlete or team to reduce injury and increase performance. In this article we’ll examine the basic principles and benefits of dynamic flex and answer the question: is there still a place for static stretching among athletes today?
What is Dynamic Flex? Dynamic flex, also known as dynamic stretching, is a form of warm-up where the athlete is in constant motion while stretching. An example of dynamic flex is the high knees drill. The differences that static stretching and dynamic flex have on the muscles are drastic. A study of roughly 1600 military recruits over a year-long period found that those who statically stretched before exercise and those who didn’t warm-up at all had the same number of injuries.2 While static stretching “decreases muscle strength by as much as 30%”1 for 30 minutes after the stretch has been performed, dynamic flex raises the core temperature of the body, “elongates the muscles, stimulates the nervous system, and helps decrease the chance of injury”3 this in turn increases power, flexibility, and range of motion. The benefits of dynamic flex are becoming more apparent by the year. A study highlighted in the NY Times said “knee injuries were cut nearly in half among female collegiate soccer players who followed a warm-up program that included both dynamic warm up exercises and static stretching”. Since the same muscles can be stretched by dynamic flex without the prolonged muscle weakness of static stretching, the most beneficial warm-up is one that contains predominantly dynamic stretching.
Static Stretching – To Do or Not to Do? Static stretching does, however; still have a place in sports today. It is shown that static stretching benefits the athlete most when done after workouts, this is because the body must cool down which it cannot do with dynamic stretching, and the temporary decrease in muscle strength that is caused by static stretching does not matter since the workout has already been completed. The stretching will elongate the muscles and prevent them from contracting too much after the workout which will allow them to be more limber when warmed up for the next workout session.
Elements of an Effective Warm-Up The purpose of a warm-up routine is to prepare the body for strenuous exercise and help decrease the chance of injury. The term “warm-up” is referring literally to warming the temperature of the body. This increase in strain on the body elevates the heart rate of the athlete, providing ample blood flow to the muscle tissues and extremities. The quickened pulse rate and blood flow allows the muscles to elongate and more easily perform eccentric and concentric movements. Once a general warm-up has achieved the goal of providing the muscles with sufficient blood flow, a sport specific warm-up should follow. The sport specific warm-up imitates similar movements as to the ones that will be performed during practice, for example after the general warm-up a soccer player may take a few sub-maximal shots on goal, or a sprinter may take a few ¾ effort starts. The purpose of the sport specific warm-up is to gradually work into the intensity that will be required during the practice or game, and to allow time for the ligaments, tendons, and joints to procure necessary blood flow as they receive blood at a slower rate than muscles do.
An effective warm-up begins with light jogging starting with a pulse rate 40% of the athlete’s maximum and increasing gradually to 60% maximum bpm. After the initial increase in heart rate, a short rest should be given, and then the athlete should proceed to dynamic flex, and finally sport specific dynamic warm-up. The entire warm-up should last between 10-15 minutes. Although an elevated heart rate is desired if the athlete warms up at a greater intensity than intended, or if not enough of a break is taken, the athlete is at risk of fatiguing before the practice or game even begins.
In a world where sports are highly competitive at the high school level it is important to incorporate an effective warm-up to keep the athletes healthy and prevent injuries with a simple warm-up routine. Dynamic flex is the most efficient and effective form of warm-up and while static stretching should never be done before workouts, it does have benefits when done after the workout is complete.
Check out some of these videos of dynamic stretching/warm up:
HAND WALKS (or as we like to call it here at Cioffredi & Associates “THE WORM”) are a great dynamic stretch for the shoulders, core muscles and hamstrings. In this video, a patient of ours demonstrates this stretch in what is one of the most fantastic examples of this we’ve ever seen – you’ve got to check it out!
Here’s a great video that walks you through and entire warm up progression and can be used for any sport:
1. Reynolds, Gretchen, “Stretching: The Truth”, New York Times, October 31, 2008, Accessed October 1, 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/sports/playmagazine/112pewarm.html?_r=0>
2. Pope, Rodney et al., “A randomized trial of preexercise stretching for prevention of lower-limb injury”, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2000, American College of Sports Medicine
3. Tollison, Taylor, “Dynamic Stretching vs. Static Stretching”, Elite Soccer Conditioning, November 28, 2010, Accessed November 26, 2012, <http://www.elitesoccerconditioning.com/Stretching-Flexibility/DynamicStretchingvsStaticStretching.htm>